Aug 7, 2010

The Kosher Traveler: Woe is Me!

The view on my way out of New Jersey on Monday.
South Carolina: It's south of the "border," and the kosher options are slim to none in most places. I anticipated this, of course. I did my research, scouring the internet for some semblance of hope for my four-day adventure, and what I came back with was that there were a few kosher digs in Myrtle Beach, so I immediately told my brother that we'd be going there, no excuses. His response was to ask a really amusing question, drawn out over nearly a minute, "So, sis, if you, you know, if you come down, and, we, you know, go to a kosher restaurant, can you, you know, pay for it?" 

Here's a guy who has no idea that kosher restaurants are more expensive than hitting up Wendy's, but who has been living on very little this summer. Amused, I agreed, and thus it was settled -- there would be at least one kosher meal on my adventure. But what about the other meals? I decided that I wanted to cook for the brother and his girlfriend, assuming that they've been eating a lot of canned chili and things like that. I packed my cooler with Empire Kosher Chicken, a bag of mixed potatoes (red, purple, white), a jar of olive oil, a mixture of thyme and other herbs, and a jar of my Celestial Seasonings 7 Pepper Spice, with the intention of making some yummy spicy chicken and herb-roasted potatoes. Set. That's two meals. (And the latter went over super well with the kids; they inhaled it!)

Now what?

I packed dried fruit, a can of cashews, a loaf of the Katz Gluten Free Bread, Marshmallow Fluff, peanut butter, and some cottage cheese. Oh! And some Gluten-Free Cinnamon Chex. I planned to get by on cereal and sandwiches, but after one created sandwich, I was ready to throw the bread away. I had good luck with the Katz Gluten Free Challah (sliced) Bread, but this whole grain version was ... well ... disgusting, grainy, and gross. So I noshed some nuts and dried fruit on the way down, bought some chips, and by the time I got to South Carolina (two large coffees and that food later), I felt disgusting. I had such a horrible stomach ache and I was up half the night with tummy pains. Sigh.

Tuesday we went to Myrtle Beach, and I was so excited to actually eat something, so at Cafe M I ordered a big ole' flounder with some fries and Israeli salad, and the meal didn't disappoint. In fact, I ate far too much food because I knew I wasn't getting a real meal again until the next night when I was making dinner. The rest of the day consisted of some Ben and Jerry's Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz at Broadway at the Beach, and lots and lots of water. When we left around 10:30 to head back to Columbia, the kids were famished and very softly asked me if it was okay if we stopped at Wendy's for them to get dinner. Listen, they're not kosher, and if they need me to deliver them to Wendy's to grab some burgers and fries, then so be it. So we went, they ordered, they ate, I drove, finishing off the rest of my cashews and water. Woe, be me. I was hungry.

Back at the apartment, I opted to just go to bed on an empty stomach than suffer through some chips or cereal again.

Here we are, the two of us. He's so tall now!
The next day, I awoke to eat two large bowls of cereal -- I was famished. Luckily, the first night I was there I picked up a big carton of Lactaid and made it work. The cereal, thank G-d, kept me full until dinnertime around 7, which, of course, was the dinner I prepared and the kids inhaled. All it took was some throw-away pans, lots of foil, and bam, easy kosher dinner in a non-kosher kitchen. It can be done. It can!

I started Thursday morning at 6 a.m., downing a bowl of cereal and hitting the road as hard I as could. I stopped in Raleigh for coffee with one of my BFFs of nearly 10 years who I'd had yet to meet. It was an awesome and surreal experience to sit down with a friend over coffee after so many years. Two cups of coffee later, I was back on the road. My plan was to drive all the way through to Baltimore and stop there for some kosher eats, and the plan was going along swell up until the point that I got on the beltway amid torrential rain and horrible traffic ... two hours I sat there in the traffic, intermittently noshing tortilla chips and dried fruit. The payoff? A burger and fries from Kosher Bite, which I inhaled so quickly I barely tasted it.

Was it really that rough that I had to inhale all the kosher eats I could get? Should I have planned better and brought more food?

Yes, it was really that rough. Being kosher and gluten free presents the challenge wherein I can't even go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. The cooler didn't work like it was supposed to, and my milk went bad pretty quick on the ride back home. Chips and snacks aren't a way to live, and a salad isn't practical to eat on the road. So planning better wouldn't have done much for me. I eat a lot of yogurt, cottage cheese, salad, and other cold-necessary items. I could have gone to the store, I suppose, but it would have been buying items that I wouldn't have been able to finish in the few days I was there and wouldn't have survived the trip back. The problem of eating was compounded by the fact that my little bro and his girlfriend have a very wacky and casual eating schedule, so I wasn't exactly sure when and where and how to eat.

This led to my little brother quipping, "Are you not hungry? You haven't eaten like anything on your trip?"

I was hungry, believe me. It reminds me of my trip to SXSW back in March and how difficult it was for me to plan my food and not be starved. I existed on powerbars and coffee most of the trip, which wasn't ideal, but I wasn't really prepared for the meals either. Now, I'm gluten free and making a sandwich isn't as easy as it once was. I want to avoid the pre-packaged self-heating meals and things like that because they're bad, bad, bad for you, and fruits and vegetables are delicate and can easily be smushed or go bad in the wrong environment.

Overall? It was a rough kosher experience. I got one really good meal out of it at Cafe M in Myrtle Beach, and the meal I prepared really hit my tastebuds out of the park. But inhaling both of these meals because it was the only real meal eaten both days wasn't smart. That's no way to go about my business. Luckily, there are no long-distance roadtrips in my future because this one destroyed my knees, my back, and my shoulders. My body is seriously beat down, but I managed to get home Thursday night after the two-hour traffic delay and a weird incident on the highway with a traffic closure and a cop's wacky driving style. Friday I woke up and cooked a meal for champions for my four Shabbat guests, and it all came together better than I could have planned. The result, however, is that I'm even more sore than when I arrived home Thursday.

Tomorrow is the Jewish Social Media Schmooze event in NYC at which I'll be a moderator, which means another day where I won't be able to rest and relax (listen, Shabbat is supposed to be relaxing, but those of you who entertain know how not true that is). So this week is my week. I'm going to hopefully get a massage, take lots of baths, and chill. This body needs a break.

So here's my query to you, the reader: How do you travel kosher? How do you travel kosher and gluten free? Or, better yet, do you have any recommendations for how I can travel kosher and gluten free? 

(Luckily, I won't be travelling long-distance again until November/December and that's to Israel, so no kosher concerns there!)


the rabbi's wife said...

Learn to Kasher a microwave! That's the first step to living kosher on the road. Also figure out what heterim are available to travelers by your rav. Even though Hubby is lactose intolerant, we end up eating a lot of tortillas with cheese, baked potatoes and Amy's meals from the microwave. (We are sephardi, so chalav Akum is permissible to travelers by our Israeli rav. Ask your LOR) You can Get Amy's stuff almost everywhere in the South (we used to live in Charlotte, where there is also a kosher deli) and also things from Morningstar Farms which heat up well. Gluten free, I don't know much about, but just don't plan on much meat when you travel kosher by Car in America. peanut butter, jam and tortillas are practically indestructible and work as filling road food. Did I ever tell you about the time My DH and I drove from Charlotte to Seattle in 4 days? Yeah, that was pretty bad...

the rabbi's wife said...

I just realized that first bit may have come off as snarky. That's not how I meant it at all. But seriously, if you know how to Kasher a microwave, it opens up a lot of possibilities. I also remembered that we always pack our own plates/paper cups/bowls/plasticware and saran wrap just in case!

Again, I'm excited you're coming to Israel, hopefully we can meet up for coffee or something. Also, be careful about Kashrus while you're here, it's not as simple as it might seep, particularly if you can't read a teudat kashrut well (in Hebrew).

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Unfortunately, there was no microwave there, so it wouldn't have helped to plan for it -- and I do know how to kasher a microwave, which helps!

Morningstar Farms is all gluteny, as is much frozen food. Bummer all around.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chaviva,
check out EnviroKidz Organic. they have a ton of GF cereals/cereal bars that also appear to be kosher (it is a capital WK and then says "pareve"). i am not Jewish, but i have Celiac and have been a lifelong vegetarian, and find traveling to be stressful instead of fun, simply because of the food issue too. rice cakes, corn cakes (found at health food stores) or corn tortillas plus a jar of natural peanut butter have saved me many times! they travel well, and the PB, at least, is filling. it helps while on the road, and then once i get where i'm going, i stock up on salad supplies and fresh foods. i totally feel your pain about travel and food...
a longtime reader,

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Amy Thanks for posting :) You know, I'm not sure whether the hecsher (the WK pareve) on those items is a "reliable" one. I must look into it, but it seems like they have a lot of excellent products. Luckily, so many gluten free products are kosher. I just wish some were healthier. Thank Gd for Chex cereals :)

Leah Sarah said...

I think what helps is learning what products are kosher that are widely available in supermarkets. With the rise of gluten free products on the market, there are options. I don't know all of your dietary stuff, but what about tuna? Canned tuna and mayo is easy, full of protein, and can be eaten with or without yucky gluten free bread ;) Since you were driving, perhaps you could have brought with you a kosher pot to make things on the stove top. Hard-boiled eggs keep well and provide a good snack, again with protein. Remember that fruits and veggies don't have to be 'kosher' and just have to be checked, so you can always make salads(ken's salad dressings are mostly kosher, newman's own has some kosher dressings, as well as some other common brands, but I don't know anything about the gluten content in them). Knowing this stuff definitely helps while traveling and keeping kosher!

Vans also makes a frozen gluten free waffle that I always see in supermarkets. I know, because I accidentally bought a box instead of the gluten-full kind, and it's been sitting in my freezer uneaten! (If you want it, it's yours, I only live a block away from you! :P)

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@LeahSarah As I was reading that ... I was finishing off the last of my Van's GF waffles :D Nom nom nom. They taste like the real thing, I'd encourage you to try them. But, of course, I'll take them off your hands!

You make really good points about tuna and hardboiled eggs (I actually had intended on making egg salad before going, but I never got to it). The waffles are harder because I would have had no way to cook them -- no toaster, no microwave. The oven cooking involved me wrapping things multiple times over when cooking, so that wouldn't have worked much either except to create sogffles.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the GF issues, although Anthony does but we do keep kosher. We, however, will eat veggie out so stopping at Subway for a veggie delight works for me and Anth will get a salad. If we go to my Dad's (who thinks pork roast is fine even if ham is not), we pack everything and then go to the store and stock up on yogurt and cheese. I have to have a lot of protein intensive snacks so cheese is great as is canned tuna. Those little sealed packs of tuna are good too and you can eat them out of the bag. But I admit, I do get into trouble. I did on the way to Ocean City and we had to stop and find cheese/pb crackers (oud) and fruit at the Wawa. That helped but once I get in trouble it's hard to come back from so I keep cheese/peanut butter crackers and granola bars on hand all the time. Lots of pro, low sugar and they can keep you out of trouble. I can't eat the kind of carbs you did...I agree, that would make me sick for days. BTW have you seen the GF Nature Valley bars yet?

Anonymous said...

The Rabbi's wife: We are sfardi too...does that mean Amy's is okay??? I'd ask the LOR but he's in Jerusalem :) If they're okay with your rav he'd be okay...and that would widen my world considerably!!!

Leah Sarah said...

Chaviva, I'm big on texture in food, and didn't like the texture of them when I've tried them. So you are welcome to them! Haha.

Yeah, sogffles are gross. I think in the future maybe you can take advantage of produce and make yummy vegetable based dishes.

One other thought, I don't know if SC has a trader joe's, but trader joe's always sells empire chicken, so that might be a source of kosher meat while you're down there and can only bring so much (safely) in a cooler.

When I started keeping kosher and went traveling the first time, I had a bad experience with not having enough to eat as well. I think everyone kind of does the first time they travel to a remote area and go, oh crap, what am I going to eat?!

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@ElianahSharon Unfortunately ... we won't someplace without hashgacha, so Subway is out (although there are plenty of kosher Subways out there). I also wish Amy's had a more reliable heschsher -- same goes with the Indian meals. But, in the end, those things aren't that great for you anyway.

@LeahSarah Does EVERY Trader Joe's carry Empire? I thought it was just in cities with lotsa Jews. That's really good to know. I love the Van's ... email me, mmk? (kvetching dot editor at gmail dot com).

Leah Sarah said...

Every trader joes as far as I know! I used to buy it in remote places in california when I very first started keeping kosher. They also sell kosher beef but it's not glatt, under the triangle-k. They also sell organic empire chicken. I think it makes sense, a lot of people have the idea that kosher food is 'cleaner' and therefore healthier, and that kosher slaughter is better for the animal, so it fits with trader joe's natural and organic premise.

aml said...

Hmmm. Just because something doesn't have a hecsher doesn't mean it isn't kosher.

I think we've lost sight of what kosher is. Rather than avoiding non-kosher food, we seek out (and pay for) certified kosher food (hecshered food). We've lost our ability to think- to learn basic halacha and apply it.

We pay a premium for someone else to do the thinking for us because why? We're too lazy? We don't trust ourselves? Its all just too complicated?

The kosher food industry in the States is both a blessing and a curse. We have more hecshered products than we know what to do with. Some items that are perfectly kosher without supervisions a are hecshered at the urging of marketing departments.

Heck, some things that make you go "huh?" (like paper-towels and dish soap) are hecshered because it makes good business sense.

Yes, we need slaughtered and kushered meat (if you're gonna eat meat) and highly processed foods need probably needs to be heschered because of all the crap that goes into it, but maybe we shouldn't be eating that crap anyway.

But something that's minimally processed with few ingredients that doesn't have a hecsher isn't kosher because it isn't stampped? I think we've made ourselves crazy here.

My solution? I eat vegan when I travel. Of course, I have a habit of traveling to far-off places around the world that don't have microwave ovens or allow me to bring in a cooler of pre-packaged, rabbi-certified foods.

It works for me. It may not for you.

Pam Siegel Zarte said...

Chips & dried fruit are my stand bys also. I can echo other commenters as to the value of Trader Joe's and canned tuna.I have two ideas that might make this easier the next time. 1)I agree with the commenter who mentioned that not everything needs a hechsher. It's just hard to remember what that is. Do you know Rabbi E. Eidlitz? He wrote a book (available from Feldheims I think)called IS IT KOSHER? I look items up in my copy of the book all the time. He also administers the "Kosher Information Bureau" on the web. He sends out updates and alerts on products which are newly kosher or mis-labeled.He has been to Tucson 2 or 3 times before Passover& led a supermarket tour highlighting what needs a Kosher for Pesach hechsher and what does not. He is delightful, knowledgeable and reliable.
2) I have a kosher friend who travels a lot with 3 small children. She always packs the cooler as you did, but she also takes along a toaster oven and sometimes an electric skillet.There is not much you could not make in either one of these.
Happy traveling, Pam

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@aml Not all of us follow your standard of kashrut. Community standards tend to reign how we function, and while I agree that sometimes it's a little ridiculous, it's how we function, so it's how we function. I feel safer having the hechsher, there to be honest. As someone who now keeps gluten-free, it's sometimes horrifying not knowing if some item on an ingredients list really HAS gluten in it and I just don't know it. I like not having to think about it when I see the big "GLUTEN FREE" stamped on the box. It's just how it is. It's not laziness, it's being practical and safe. You might not agree, but that's the glory of being Jewish -- we all get to express ourselves uniquely.

@Pam That book sounds AWESOME! I must track it down ..

the rabbi's wife said...

@Elianah-Sharon--Our Rav allows us to eat Chalav Akum under specific circumstances when we travel depending on length of stay, availability of other ingredients, etc. It's a clear psak for us.
Frankly, if you're eating bread and ingredients from Subway, the Hescher on Amy's food will be fine for you. We don't eat food cooked by a non-jew (which would be the bread at Subway for sure!), because that's normative Sephardi Halacha. Also, having worked at Subway in another lifetime, I know for a fact that the bins they store veggies in one day are storing ham the next (after a hand washing, not a steam washer) rendering the food in it completely treif. If your LOR has said this is fine, I would question the "O" portion of that statement. Nevertheless, in answer to your query, Amys should be fine if you're traveling. It depends on your standards at home if you can eat it regularly.

fille said...

I have to travel quite a lot to places without kosher restaurants. Prepairing the meals is quite a headache.

I bought a small electric stove (about 7 cm in diameter) with a fitting pan. For 6 weeks in Spain, I survived mainly on lentils with rice or lentils with potatoes, cooked on my small stove, & fruits and vegetables.

I think the key trick to vacations is

- bring a cooking device (electric, gaz or fuel) (might be a camping cooking device if you are not in a hotel)
-check into a room where you have access to water, so that you can cook
- bring along forms of meat/sausage that will stay even without cooling like corned beef and the likes
- do parveh cooking of rice, potatoes, lentils and perhaps also vegetables
-buy fruit and vegetables locally, as much as you need and want.

For one-day trips, I used to prepare sandwiches, but now I really take time to make a real meal with meat (varieties of chicken shnitzel or sausages), potato salad (or other salad you can eat cold) and 5 varieties of fruit and vegetables.

Here are a few examples:
- chicken shnitzel with cocos mantel (like a schnitzel, instead of breadcrumbs you use rasped coconut - it's delicious
- potato salad
- whole variety of fruit and vegatables (cucumbers, carots, cherry tomatoes, radish, olives, salad)
- chicken breast in apricot jam
- rice salad (or your famous quinoa salad)
- corn
- variety of fruit and vegetables

sushi (rice, smoked salmon, alg leaves)
whole variety of fruit and vegetables.

(Generally, I found the japanese cuisine and their concept of "bento" to be a good source of inspiration)

It takes about 30' or even more to prepare lunch in the morning...
...but while I used to be jealous that my colleagues went to restaurant, I my colleagues now look at my picknicks with envy...

fille said...

That's the thing I take everywhere & a mini-water boiler.

I do not use a lot of instant-products, because I do not like their taste.

Oh, and things that you should take with you (in small quantities, but very important):
salt, pepper, spices

PS: I also use halav akum, especially when I travel, so my breakfast often consists of yoghurt, berries, and oatbran (although this contains gluten)...

Do you eat a lot of polenta? Because this is also something you can eat cold...

fille said...

PS: I recently discovered manioc

Is it gluten-free?

It's a long root, you peel it, then you cut it to cubes or rasp it, and cook it in salt water, like potatoes.

Once it is cooked thoroughly (that's important, the uncooked version contains cyanid which is unhealthy in large quantities), you can also fry it in oil and it's delicious, also cold, for picknicks...

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Fille WOW! Such good tips you have for us! I'm seriously excited to travel again ... because then I can really plan and make it work right. I've never heard of Manioc, but if it's a vegetable/fruit then it's probably gluten-free. You've really become the master road-chef. You should write a book!

fille said...

I checked it: it is gluten-free. I think it come from south america. But now, we also have it in Europe.

By the way: I suppose Alicia Hausmann (jewminicana) could give you excellent receipies with plantains (baby bananas)...
Have a look over at her blog or contact her.

And then she is also great on beans...

Anonymous said...

We don't eat food cooked by a non-jew (which would be the bread at Subway for sure!), because that's normative Sephardi Halacha.

I would not presume to question this understanding of the gezerot involved for certain foods, but I'll simply offer the information that concerns about cooking (bishul) and baking (pat) are two different areas. I follow a rav that is careful about bishul (common for Sephardim), but follows the talmudic lenience offered for simple baked breads from non-Jewish bakers. Therefore, the simple breads at Subway (which are baked in a dedicated oven) would be acceptable. I would be careful about possible dairy issues with any such bread.

Also, having worked at Subway in another lifetime, I know for a fact that the bins they store veggies in one day are storing ham the next (after a hand washing, not a steam washer) rendering the food in it completely treif.

Again, not to argue, but concerns regarding the transfer of taste are fairly clearly outlined in the legal codes and the situation as described might not fall under those parameters (usually, but not always involving heat). The fact that the containers are washed also helps.

As always, consult your trusted legal authority/consultant as needed for such issues.

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